Updated: March 3, 2021
Two senior American officials on Thursday explained in details why African nations should do business with the United States rather than China.
At a telephonic press conference, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs, Manisha Singh, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of African Affairs, Ambassador Matthew Harrington, explained that China and the United States were operating two very different, almost opposite, business models in Africa.
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Both senior officials were responding to a question asked by Simon Ateba in Washington D.C.‘s
The press briefing was to discuss the 2018 Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence and U.S. private investment in Africa at large.
Two companies doing business in Togo and Ethiopia won the awards this year.
Alaffia, a health and beauty products company, which directly employs over 700 women in rural Togo and pays four times the average family income there while it’s contracted with more than 14,000 women as suppliers, won the award for Women’s Economic Empowerment.
The other company, PVH Corporation, one of the world’s largest apparel brands, would be recognized for its excellence in Sustainable Operations. PVH is a lead investor in the model industrial park in Hawassa, Ethiopia. The company is investing in factories powered by renewable energy and have many operations which will protect Ethiopia’s environment while contributing to its economic success.
Both awards would be presented at an event at the State Department in Washington DC today.
On American engagement in Africa and China, Assistant Secretary Singh said under President Donald Trump, the United States was looking to engage more fully in Africa, and that engagement would continue to be led by the private sector in a responsible and transparent way that benefits both Africa and the U.S., and not by taking advantage of the continent.
“As you know, we, the United States do business very differently than China. We want our private sector – our companies – to go into Africa and create jobs there, ” she said.
American companies, Secretary Singh said, “go into the communities in which they’re operating and provide economic benefits, sustainable environments”.
But, “that’s not something you’re going to see from China. The Chinese will come in and not necessarily take advantage of the local labor force,” she added.
“And I would point out that our ACE award winners this year – both PVH and Alaffia – have employed local Africans in the communities in which they operate. As I mentioned, PVH has been recognized for its sustainable operations, and Alaffia for, in particular, employing women in Africa, and so that’s something that our companies do”.
But for China Singh said “environmental standards, human rights, are really not relevant for them”.
“For us, we the U.S. government ensure that our companies are going to operate responsibly in foreign markets. We have a civil society that takes a look at how U.S. companies are operating overseas.
“So there are many factors which contribute to responsible operations for U.S. companies, and as Ambassador Harrington observed earlier, at this point, U.S. consumers want to buy products – whether it’s coffee or retail goods – that are sourced responsibly.
“People will ask us, “Are these goods fair trade?” “Are they made with human rights considerations in mind?”
“And so for companies, it really is good business right now to behave and operate responsibly”.
But she said “you will not find that with China”
“We are providing – we think – a better alternative to Chinese state-directed investment.
“You’ll note that I mentioned earlier our BUILD Act, which provides up to $60 billion in development finance assistance right now to help U.S. companies operate overseas.
“For us, that’s again leveraging private sector investment. Secretary Pompeo has said that our goal is not to compete with China dollar-for-dollar, but rather have our private sector help African economies grow and prosper. We think that that’s the better model”.
Generally on trade, she said “President Trump is actively exploring a free trade agreement with the sub-Saharan African countries. We have conversations ongoing with a few countries, and we are hopeful that will come to fruition soon”.
According to Ambassador Harrington, a career diplomat, who has lived in eight African countries, five of those as a U.S. diplomat, in all of those countries, he said, he sensed “a real concern among ordinary citizens of those countries about the way that China operates and engages in those countries, you know, whether it’s the flouting of labor laws or the predatory lending practices”.
He said American companies offer a much better, credible alternative.
On U.S. engagement in Africa generally, Ambassador Harrington said “We are very engaged, we continue to be engaged in a number of sectors in Africa, and our engagement has long had very strong bipartisan support, whether it’s support for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, legislation signed under the Clinton administration, to the creation of the Millennium Challenge Corporation and PEPFAR, two programs which are having such an impact across the continent in positive ways”.
“This program started under the Bush administration, and I could go on. Power Africa… we’re doing a lot of very, very positive things”.
He said Secretary Ross, U.S. Secretary of Commerce, is leading the President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa and led visits to the continent several months ago, “and we’re looking at providing a number of recommendations on how we can further strengthen our trade partnerships on the continent”.